What is Omaha Poker?
Before we discuss how to play Omaha, we should first summarize what it involves. In a nutshell, Omaha poker is a game in which players are required to make the best five-card poker hand possible from exactly two of four hole cards and exactly three of five community cards. The game was invented by a man called Robert Turner. It was playable at casinos in Las Vegas from the 1980s. Turner won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1993 and has racked up more than $2 million in poker winnings. So he certainly knows his stuff.
The game of Omaha has grown in popularity ever since it first appeared under the name of Nugget Hold'em at Bill Boyd's Golden Nugget Casino. While it hasn't enjoyed the same mainstream media limelight as Texas Hold'em, Omaha has become a very big hit with poker players worldwide. In fact, it is now something of a staple on the tournament circuit.
Where to Play Omaha Poker
Omaha doesn't require much in the way of equipment, so the game can be played wherever you have a deck of playing cards and a supply of poker chips to keep track of winners and losers. This makes Omaha just as popular as an informal home game that is played for fun as Texas Hold'em.
When it comes to playing Omaha for money, this can only take place at a venue that is properly licensed and regulated. Not all states allow poker rooms to operate. In those states that don't, no real money poker will be available. In other states, it will be legal to play at land-based poker rooms only. But a growing number of states also allow online poker rooms to operate. You can find out what the options are in your own state by visiting our state pages.
Those of you who have the option of both land-based poker rooms and online poker rooms can of course take your pick. Or, like an increasing number of players, you could play at both. The online game has many advantages, not least of which is access to far more games and tables, and the ability to play at any time of day or night from the comfort of your own home.
Recommended Poker Sites
The Mechanics of Omaha Poker
As we said in the previous section, you don't need much more than a deck of cards and some poker chips to play Omaha for fun. However, when you play the game for real money at a land-based poker room, things need to be done a lot more formally.
The game is played at purpose-designed poker tables that normally seat up to nine or ten players at a time. A standard deck of cards is used, and a plastic disc known as 'the button' is used to keep track of which players will pay the blinds and start the game, as we will explain later. Cards are dealt by a professional dealer. The same dealer will also manage the pots and oversee the game in general.
When you play Omaha at an online poker room, the table, cards, chip, and button will all be portrayed on screen. The game will proceed in the same way as at a land-based poker room. The big difference here is that no human dealer will be present. Instead, software will shuffle and deal the cards and run the game automatically. This speeds things up considerably, and so you'll soon notice that you will play more hands per hour online than you would at a brick-and-mortar establishment.
Omaha Poker Hand Rankings
Omaha uses the same poker hand rankings as games such as Texas Hold'em and Seven Card Stud. If you already know your Straight from your Royal Flush you can probably afford to skip this section without detriment. If you're brand new to poker in general then read on and we'll explain how each poker hand is made. The hands will be discussed in order of best to worst. The letters J, Q, K and A will be used to signify the ranks of Jack, Queen, King, and Ace, respectively.
The Royal Flush is the Holy Grail of poker hands. That's because the chances of someone having it are only 1 in 649,739. The hand is made up of 10-J-Q-K-A, all of which must have matching suits of hearts, diamonds, clubs or spades.
This hand has five cards in sequential order, all of the same suit. The highest-ranked card determines how strong the hand is as a whole. A Jack-high Straight Flush would therefore beat a 10-high Straight Flush.
Four of a Kind
As the name of the hand suggests, this is a hand containing four cards of the same rank. For example, A-A-A-A-2 or K-K-K-K-7. The spare card which doesn't match the others is referred to as a 'kicker'.
The Full House is a hand that contains a Three of a Kind and a Pair. In other words, three cards of one equal rank and two cards of another equal rank. For example, Q-Q-Q-3-3 or 10-10-10-8-8.
A Flush is a hand of any five cards, all of which have the same matching suit. The higher the rank of the highest card, the stronger the Flush.
A Straight is a hand that comprises five sequentially ranked cards, but those cards are not of the same suit. The higher the Straight, the better.
Three of a Kind
Get three cards of the same matching rank and you have a Three of a Kind. The value of the hand is determined by the rank of the Three of a Kind. That's the case even if one of the two kickers has a higher value.
This hand is made up of two matching pairs of one rank plus two other matching cards of a different rank. The higher the top pair, the better.
A hand that has just two matching cards of the same rank, with the other three cards being kickers. The higher the pair, the stronger it is.
This is the weakest hand of all. It is made by default when none of the above hands has been made. In this case, the value of the highest card in the hand determines its strength.
How to Play Omaha Poker
Playing Omaha poker is much like playing Texas Hold'em, but with two big differences. The first is that four hole cards are dealt to each player instead of just two. The second is that players must make the best five-card poker hand possible using exactly two of their four hole cards and exactly three of the five community cards that are dealt.
The game can best be discussed in terms of six key stages. We will now take you through each of those in turn so that you can see exactly how a typical hand is played.
Posting the Blinds
First, the 'big blind' and the 'small blind' are posted by the two players to the right of the player with the button. The big blind is equal to the minimum bet and the small blind is half that size. These blinds seed the pot so that the first player to bet has something to respond to.
The button is passed in a clockwise direction to the next player after every hand. This means that everyone at the table will pay both the big blind and the small blind by the time every player has received the button.
Pre-Flop and Betting
When the blinds have been posted, each player will be dealt four cards face-down so that they can't be seen by anyone else. Note that, when you play the game online, your hole cards will be clearly visible to you on the screen. Rest assured that no other player will be able to see your hole cards. Similarly, you won't be able to see those of your opponents.
At this stage, the first round of betting will take place. Play begins with the player to the left of the big blind, and moves in a clockwise direction. Your options when it is your turn to bet will be as follows:
- Call: This means to bet the same amount as the person before you. Or, if you are the first player to bet, the same amount as the big blind. You cannot participate in the hand unless you call or raise.
- Raise: This means to bet more than the person before you. Players after you will have to bet that same amount to call, or bet even more to re-raise. If anyone chooses to re-raise, you will have to then match their bet to remain in the hand.
- Fold: This means to fold your hand and drop out of the current hand being played. You won't have to pay anything to fold, but you won't have a chance of winning the pot. Additionally, you will automatically lose any bets made earlier in the same hand.
When all players have finished betting, the game moves on to the next stage, which is referred to as the Flop.
Flop and Betting
The dealer now deals three cards face-up in the middle of the table. The visible cards are called community cards because everyone can see and make use of them to make their five-card poker hand.
This is where each player looks at the community cards to see what hand he has made and how it might be possible to improve the hand further. A second round of betting then takes place, with each player now betting according to their confidence and expectation.
Turn and Betting
A fourth community card is dealt to the middle of the table, and this is known as the Turn. The addition of the fourth card makes many more hands potentially possible. Not only for you but for everyone else at the table. In light of this new information, another round of betting takes place.
River and Betting
The dealer will now deal a fifth and final community card, which is referred to as the River. With all of the community cards now having been dealt, players will know exactly what their best hand is from using two of their four hole cards and three of the community cards. A final round of betting will therefore take place.
Because players have several opportunities to fold, not every hand of Omaha will reach the Showdown stage. If there is ever a point at which all but one of the players at the table have folded their hands, the last player who is still active in the hand will automatically win the pot, no matter what cards he holds.
In all other cases, where two or more players remain in the hand, the Showdown stage will determine the winner. The players involved will reveal their cards. The one who holds the strongest hand (according to the rankings given earlier) will win the pot.
When you come to play Omaha poker, you will find that the games available will be described as No Limit, Pot Limit or Fixed Limit. The limits refer to the way bets can be made, and the key points to remember are as follows:
- No Limit games allow players to bet as much as they want, with no maximum. The only limitation on their betting is how much they have available in chips.
- Pot Limit games allow players to bet no more than the value of the pot at the time the bet is being made. As the pot value increases, so does the maximum amount that can be bet.
- Fixed Limit games dictate the value of legal betting increments in each round of betting. The value tends to be equal to the big blind in the first two rounds of betting, and double that amount in the last two rounds of betting.
How to Play Omaha: Tips and Strategies
With four hole cards per player in Omaha, playing the game strategically is even more important than in games where just two hole cards are dealt. The variety of possible starting hands in a regular game of Omaha is far greater than in Hold'em, for example. It would therefore be reckless to play the game without some kind of plan. That being the case, here are some tips and strategies that you can use to get off to the best possible start.
Hit the Books
First, if you want to play Omaha regularly and succeed in winning pots, you should study the game in some depth. There are plenty of good books on Omaha that will teach you which games to focus on, which starting hands to play, and how to bet most effectively. We recommend that you grab one or two of them and start applying what you learn at the tables.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Simply reading about Omaha won't make you a winner, any more than reading about swimming will earn you an Olympic medal. As well as studying the game, you also need to get plenty of experience at the tables. Many online poker rooms have free-play tables especially for beginners, so spend some time at those before progressing to micro-stakes tables. Only move to tables with higher stakes as your skill and experience allow.
Observe the Experts
There are plenty of Omaha poker games that can be viewed on YouTube and TV, and many will be played by seasoned experts. You can learn a great deal by watching such games, but for best results, you should watch them actively. This means putting yourself in their shoes and asking yourself how you would play each hand. Then note how they choose to play and compare the difference. Such casual self-analysis can broaden your horizons and give you the kind of insight into the game that has been hard-won by years at the tables.
Manage Your Bankroll
When you progress from the free-play tables to playing Omaha for real money, be sure to manage your bankroll wisely. This is something else that serious Omaha books will teach you. In the meantime, a good rule of thumb is to risk no more than 10% of your bankroll in a single session. For example, if you have a bankroll of $200, don't take more than $20 to a game. Part of learning to play well involves learning from experience, and experience most often comes through losing hands. Losing money is therefore likely to be inevitable in the early days of your Omaha career. So prepare for that by risking only a small portion of your bankroll in any given game.
The game that we have described in this guide is regular Omaha, but there are also several Omaha variants that can be played. We therefore have separate pages for the most popular variants, such as Five Card Omaha and Omaha Hi-Lo. When you feel comfortable playing Omaha as described here, you can consider exploring the variants to see how you like them.